As entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, freelancers, however you identify as a small business owner, you need to know about image licensing. Did you know that when you hire a photographer to take pictures of you, you don’t “own” those images. Your photographer gives you an image license to use those images under whatever terms they’ve set or you’ve negotiated with them.
I get that it’s easy to think that when you hire a photographer to take pictures of you, that you “own” those images. But that’s not how copyright works. We need to have more conversations about copyright and how we use our images.
“When you ask or commission another person or organisation to create a copyright work for you, the first legal owner of copyright is the person or organisation that created the work and not you the commissioner.” Source: Gov UK
Rather than owning the copyright to the images that you commission or hire a photographer to take for you, you are given an image license. Let’s dive into image licensing and some of its nuances.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to image licensing. I do think it’s something that needs much more discussion, however, PARTICULARLY if you’re operating a business.
What is Image Licensing?
When you commission a photographer, you will automatically be granted some rights to use the resulting photographs. This is usually included as part of the quoted fees and is known as ‘licensing’ or a ‘licence to use’.
Put simply, image licensing is permission to use the work. (source: The AOP)
What does a license include?
This varies greatly from photographer to photographer, however a typical license will include information on the type of use, scope of use, and limitations of use.
Please note that there is no industry standard on licensing and terms may be used differently by different people, so it’s important to read the specifics and definitions in each license and contract you agree to.
Let’s dive into each of these things to gain a better understanding of what may be included in your image license.
Types of Use
There are generally three types of use. These are:
Sometimes called “Editorial,” this is granted for personal use only. Meaning, the images may not be used for any type of commercial purposes. This type of use is common for wedding and family photographers.
While this can encompass a broad scope of business uses, this typically includes the use of images for the purposes of saleable items and products (e.g. books, merchandise, etc.) This type of use is typically negotiated separately.
Again, this can encompass a broad scope of business uses, but typically includes the use of images on websites, social media, pomotional posters, etc. This type of use is common for personal branding and product photographers. If you work with me as your brand photographer, this is the standard image licensing type that your images come with.
Scope of Use
This further details the type of medium that you can use the photograph on.
“The images are provided for the use of promoting (type of use) the business of The Client. This includes the use of images Online, in social media and in print material, including banners, promotional posters and leaflets. (scope of use) However, if you wish to print images in national press, national editorial or saleable items and products (ie: books, merchandise etc) terms will need to be renegotiated for this type of image use.”
Limitations of Use
Some limitations of use on your image license may include…
How long you are being licensed the images for (e.g. 6 months, 2 years, in perpetuity)
Where you are being licensed the images (e.g. for use in the UK only, for worldwide use, etc.)
Typically, photographers do not grant licenses for licensee’s to sublicense or transfer any image usage rights to third parties. Exceptions may be stock photos or image licensing agencies.
Right to Edit
The extent to which you can edit the images you have commissioned. Whether they can be fully redesigned or if only minor edits can be done or no edits at all. This could include whether or not you are able to cut out a subject from an image and use on top of a graphic as is commonly seen with a lot of personal brands.
Your license (or contractual agreement you sign with a photographer) should also state whether or not you have one of the following:
Non-Exclusive Usage Rights
You can use the images and the photographer has the right to license the images for other people to use.
Exclusive Usage Rights
The photographer is giving permission for only you to use the images. You will typically pay more for exclusive rights.
How much does image licensing cost?
There isn’t a simple answer as it largely depends on:
The type of use permitted
The scope that the license is granted under
What limitations of use are in place
If it’s for non-exclusive or exclusive rights
Each of these things will be used as factors when deciding how much you pay for image licensing. You may pay PER IMAGE for a license or for a group of images.
For example, in my brand photography package, I currently include some images licensed within the cost of the session itself. Any additional images are purchased. What you are really purchasing is the RIGHT TO USE the image under the terms we agreed.
To put it simply, the more rights that YOU have, the more you will pay in image licensing.
Some examples on cost
Many photographers use The AOP Usage Calculator to determine how much they should charge for image use. This helps us stay unified and fair as an industry in our prices.
The BBC wants to share a story on me and feature one headshot during the story segment on TV. Standard rate of licensing for the BBC is roughly £250 PER IMAGE.
I want to send a headshot of me to a national magazine for a feature. The image will roughly be 1/8 of a page. Standard rate of licensing ranges from £50-100 PER IMAGE.
A news outlet used an image WITHOUT permission or licensing. £200-500 as a basic use (depending on size/scale of outlet and how they used the image) plus x2 for flagrant infringement, x2 for derogatory treatment (if image is cropped or edited), x2 if meta data removed (for online publications).
Everyone Pays for Licensing
No matter how big or small your business is, the bottom line is that everyone is responsible for properly licensing images.
Most photographers are flexible when trying to work with their individual client needs and budgets.
Some photographers offer special licensing rates for small businesses, social enterprises and charities. Just ask about their licensing options. We’re generally a friendly bunch.
Do not assume what rights you have to use images.
If you’re not sure, ask your photographer or the creator of the images. If you misuse an image beyond the license agreement you have, a photographer is within their rights to:
Issue a Cease and Desist Letter
Pursue Legal Action
**please note I am not a contract lawyer or an expert on image licensing. I am simply a photographer trying to earn what they’re worth.